LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In movies from “My Left Foot” to current drama “There Will Be Blood,” Daniel Day-Lewis has been called many things: bold, hypnotic, gripping, among them. But foolhardy is a description he may like better.
The English-born actor does not want to look like a fool — far from it. Yet, the Oscar winner said that one of his biggest motivating forces over the years has been his desire to push limits in ways that might possibly be panned by audiences.
Fortunately for him, that rarely, if ever, happens.
“I don’t want to look like an idiot,” he said with a laugh. “But you know what the truth is. Having said that, you can’t do this work without making a fool of yourself.”
Acting with his focus solely on characters and performance with little regard for what critics think is the main lesson Day-Lewis said he learned while studying drama at the Bristol Old Vic School in Britain.
It stayed with him through the 1980s as he rose into the ranks of top actors with “My Beautiful Laundrette,” “A Room With a View and “My Left Foot,” the story of a man who overcame cerebral palsy to learn to write and paint with his foot.
At age 30, Day-Lewis won the best actor Oscar for “Left Foot.” Since then, the son of British poet Cecil Day-Lewis and husband of filmmaker Rebecca Miller (daughter of playwright Arthur Miller) has worked with top directors in top movies.
Day-Lewis, now 50, also has been Oscar-nominated for his role in 1993’s “In the Name of the Father,” playing a man wrongly accused of a bombing, and in 2002’s “Gangs of New York,” portraying gang leader Bill “The Butcher” Cutting.
Since the late 1990s, his roles have become fewer and farther in between — “There Will Be Blood” is only his fourth movie in a decade — because Day-Lewis accepts only roles and projects about which he is passionate.
For the part of oil prospector Daniel Plainview in “Blood,” Day-Lewis worked for nearly four years with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson to hone the character.
“I could spend 10 years making a movie if it was a subject that interests me,” Day-Lewis said. “You have to limit shooting because you can only mine so much out of yourself. But during preparation, that is a period of (mental) nourishment.”
“Blood” revolves around Plainview, an angry and competitive man who is driven to become wealthy during California’s oil boom in the early 1900s. The movie plays out like a cautionary tale of the corrupting power of money.
Day-Lewis is well-known for intense preparation, but he finds it hard to explain his way of working.
“Each piece of work requires that you imagine a world, and then you try to understand that world through the eyes and experience of a human being that isn’t yourself,” he said.
While words like bold, intense and focused are often used to describe him, Day-Lewis is rather soft-spoken and quick-witted in person.
He has three sons, one with French actress Isabelle Adjani, and two boys with Miller, who wrote and directed 2005’s “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” starring Day-Lewis.
Tattoos of his children’s hands are inked onto his arms, and when asked what they are, Day-Lewis laughs.
“This is thing one, my 12-year-old. He’s got the smallest hand,” he said, pointing. “Then, this is 9 and 5.”
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Xavier Briand